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Weekly Alibi Crazy Love

By Devin D. O'Leary

JULY 13, 1998:  What is the opposite of sex? Well, according to a provocative new indie flick, sex brings with it a raft of problematic results: disease, pregnancy, commitment. The opposite would be a guilt-free, problem-free life of celibacy. Of course, celibacy brings with it its own cargo of difficulties. This and other conundrums of modern relationships form the heart of writer/director Don Roos' new film The Opposite of Sex.

Roos is no stranger to filmmaking, as his scripts for Love Field, Single White Female, Boys on the Side and Diabolique will attest. The Opposite of Sex is his first double duty job, however, and he handles it with a good deal more confidence and originality than most neophyte directors. Roos' résumé brands him as a fine writer of female characters (Love Field nabbed Michelle Pfeiffer an Academy Award nomination). The Opposite of Sex continues the trend. Christina Ricci stars as Dedee Pruitt, a conniving, rebellious teenager from nowhere, Louisiana. After the death of her much-hated stepfather, Dedee hits the road to visit her long-lost half-brother in Indiana. Her unsuspecting bro Bill (Martin Donovan) is a quiet, small-town school teacher who just happens to be gay. Bill has been left independently wealthy by the death of his previous lover and is trying to resurrect his life with a new boyfriend, Matt (Ivan Sergei). Lucia (Lisa Kudrow) is Bill's sexually repressed best friend and the late lover's sister. Lucia takes an instant dislike to Dedee--and with good reason. Within a month, Dedee has seduced Matt away from Bill and made off with $10,000 of her brother's money.

Roos is obviously enamored with this creation of his known as Dedee Pruitt. He allows her to narrate the film with a winking sarcasm (criticizing the audience's film viewing habits, insisting that she is not the kind of bad girl who "grows a heart of gold by the end of the movie" and skipping over the "boring parts" of the story to suit her narrative). Despite her horrible, manipulative behavior, Roos wants us to identify with Dedee (a fact reiterated by her frequent "Do you like me yet?" voice-over). Christina Ricci, an acting wunderkind since her first appearance in 1990's Mermaids, continues to take risks. The trashy, sexually promiscuous Dedee is quite a gamble for the dewy-eyed star of Addams Family. Ricci, still clinging to the last of her baby fat like a security blanket, is profoundly believable as the Lolita-like manipulator. Unfortunately, Roos is a little too enamored with her. Though entertaining in her own amoral way, Dedee hogs too much of the limelight.

The real story, in fact, revolves around the relationship between Bill and Lucia. Both have been emotionally numbed by the death of Bill's former lover (Lucia's brother). They have formed a strange sort of grief-bond. Bill has suppressed his pain by engaging in a rather shallow sexual relationship with the rather shallow boy toy Matt. Lucia, meanwhile, has repressed her rather obvious affection for Bill by becoming a brittle, sarcastic prude. Lisa Kudrow is surprisingly good in a role quite unlike her "Friends" character. Through some (grudging) flashbacks, Dedee fills us in on exactly what brought Bill and Lucia to such mutually unhappy points. Again, though, Dedee's role in all this is a little too precious. Her prescient wisdom seems far too out-of-character (she claims she's actually doing all these horrible things just to put a little spark back in these people's lives).

Before long, Dedee is pregnant and living in California with a befuddled (and newly "bisexual") Matt. Soon, Bill finds himself accused of sexual harassment at his school (courtesy of Matt's bitter ex-lover Jason). And eventually Lucia finds herself haplessly pursued by a well-meaning local sheriff (played, oddly enough, by Lyle Lovett). Believe it or not, all these schizophrenic elements manage to converge at a cabin in Canada. If The Opposite of Sex lacks a conventional plot, it more than makes up for it with Roos' unflagging momentum. It's hard not to get swept along with this crazy congregation of sexual dysfuntionals.

Roos has a way with words, and there are many gut-busting witticisms on display here (as when Dedee remarks: "My mother was always the type to say she was her daughter's best friend--great, I thought, not only is my mother a whore, but my best friend is a loser bitch"). Unfortunately, his dialogue--like his characters--is occasionally too clever. Some lines fall to the ground like lead weights because they feel far too "scripted."

On the one hand, independent films allow filmmakers to create their visions in a pure, unadulterated form. On the other hand, they also allow filmmakers to plow forward without the cautious scrutiny of Hollywood's mob mentality. The Opposite of Sex is an eccentric and witty rumination on the pains (as opposed to the pleasures) of love and a bold introduction to an innovative new director. It's also a little too cute for its own good.?

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